Giving research participants a voice and the researcher an opportunity to listen: focus groups could be the answer
Academic Conferences Ltd.
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Within the academic research literature there is a lack of information and guidance on utilising focus group methods, yet it is a research method that is highly adaptable and can be used in combination with a range of other methods at different stages of the research process. In this paper, the use of focus groups in research will be discussed, with reference to a focus group study involving pre-birth and post-birth couples to examine how significant life events, such as ‘first time pregnancy’ and ‘first time parenthood’, impacted upon their access, opportunity and experiences of leisure as an individual, couple and as a family. Focus groups are an under-utilised qualitative tool (Krueger & Casey, 2014), especially in business/management research, yet they have been used quite extensively in marketing to seek customer opinions on products and services (Stewart & Shamdasani, 2014). In this paper a range of benefits will be highlighted, to encourage academics in these disciplines to seriously consider their use. Focus groups are particularly useful in gaining information about participants’ experiences and views on a specific topic. Focus groups are an adaptable research tool and relatively easy to organise and can be used at all stages of the research process. They are a qualitative method of enquiry that is similar to group interviewing, but most importantly the interaction between focus group participants is the key to producing insightful data in a focused discussion (Krueger & Casey, 2014). Focus groups help participants to express their own perceptions, attitudes and viewpoints about a topic in which they are personally involved and in which they have experience and knowledge. Furthermore, focus groups allow participants to discuss a specific issue in which they have some common interest, with like minded people in a non-threatening and relaxed environment. As a researcher, it is important to be aware of some of the ‘pitfalls’ of using focus groups and adopt a strategy to ensure effective management and be clear in your purpose for using this method. Preparation is critical, as there are many tasks that need completion before the focus group meeting can commence. Similar to any other qualitative methods of research, focus groups can be used for a variety of purposes, but the researcher needs to consider the advantages and disadvantages of this method, in relation to other methods of research. In this paper, the important role of recruiting participants, formulating a strategy for framing questions and the role played by the moderator in managing the focus group discussion will be emphasised. Suggestions will be given, to highlight a number of ways in which the data produced can be analysed and utilised for reporting purposes. In concluding, the key issues outlined in the paper will be re-visited and the reader will be encouraged to seriously consider using this method as part or in combination with other qualitative and quantitative methods.